By Ranger Steve Mueller
How cheery and uplifting a bright blue sky is for the soul in mid winter. It draws me to break trail in fresh snow. The experience is most beautiful when scattered white clouds parade in front of the sun creating an alternating blue-gray snow blanket when clouds temporary block the glistening sparkles of sunrays on snow crystals that soon reappear once clouds have passed. I want to bundle everyone in warm winter clothes to join on the Courier and Ives experience among the natural wonders beyond our confining doors.
It is easy to dream about the beauty of times past when viewing Courier and Ives pictures or watching winter scene screen-savers cascade across the computer. Stick your head out the window and yell “I’m Excited” to alert your neighbors. Bundle up and show others it is time to explore the Great Blue.
With unrestrained excitement I started the morning. The dog was anxious to head into the great blue yonder. I carried a camera to concentrate on the snow covered tree branches with the blue and white backdrop created by the crisp winter sky. A 20-degree temperature was comfortably warm but cold enough to preserve snow snakes on stark winter branches. Some of the snow was slipping from branches but was cohesive enough to hang in loops creating the appearance of long white snakes resting in the winter sun. Just as I was ready to snap a picture the loop broke and fell. I’ll wait for another day to capture an intact winter snow snake.
Meanwhile the dog was searching the snow with nose buried deep in rabbit and deer tracks. His nose was to the ground while my eyes were raised to the sky. We finished our joint walk and I ventured out to explore on my own.
I walked toward Peninsula Bridge at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary. As I approached the footbridge over the creek, another Great Blue leaped from the shallow water, stretched large wings and flew upstream. Each winter I occasionally see a Great Blue Heron frozen statue-like in the creek’s shallow water waiting to spear a passing fish for lunch.
When it flew, I was unprepared to raise the camera to capture the departing Great Blue. I expected I might see it again when walking the pond loop trail. Quietly I traversed the narrow isthmus between the two frozen ponds and crossed high ground separating the west pond from the flowing creek. The hidden heron flew from the creek and landed on a branch long enough for me to capture a picture.
Today was this year’s first heron sighting. Its Great Blue added to the Great Blue sky above and the Great Blue reflecting from shadowed snow. Cottontail tracks and droppings were telltale signs of where the rabbit has nightly explorations. Deer trails provided evidence for preferred travel routes. Snow was deep enough to show drag marks where hooves scraped the surface between tracks.
All are beautiful art in the snow. They are not snow angels we make but are natural artifacts made by animal winter activities. Deer and rabbits remain hidden by day but squirrels are seen nosing the snow for hidden treasures buried months ago. Some large areas have been cleared of snow by deer searching for the squirrels buried treasures. Deer beds were melted in snow where deer rested. One group of beds was along the forest south edge where it meets field. Deer were taking advantage of the sun’s low winter angle warmth while remaining protected among shrubs. The snow has allowed me to locate two other bedding areas that would be hard in find without snow.
I approached the creek near the road and discovered the Great Blue Heron standing in the stream waiting patiently for food to pass within reach. I snapped a distance picture, got the mail and left without disturbing it. As long as there is open water, these long legged Great Blue wading birds stay the winter and brighten my days in nature niches, as do the other exciting Great Blues provided in nature’s winter world.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at firstname.lastname@example.org Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433, or call 616-696-1753.